9 players to know: How the Valley Suns’ G League team can help Phoenix

Jun 14, 2024, 11:51 AM | Updated: 12:08 pm

Emmanuel Mudiay, Knicks vs. Suns...

New York Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay shoots around Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The G League isn’t just a place to give developmental prospects pro run in a similar system to a team’s NBA big brother. It’s a testing ground for basketball schemes, a place to find out-of-the-box coaches and, for individual players, a place to step back into the spotlight.

Look no further than point guard Isaiah Thomas using his time with the Salt Lake City Stars to stand out to the Phoenix Suns, who last year signed the long-time NBA veteran for the homestretch of the regular season and playoff run.

The G League’s Valley Suns on Thursday drafted a roster of players that includes former lottery picks as well as fringe NBA players still in their prime. Yes, as my Empire of the Suns podcast co-host Kellan Olson pointed out, that roster you’d think will be used to develop somebody or somebodies the Suns end up drafting or signing from the 2024 class.

But it could also come in handy to survive the bumps and bruises of the regular season. And hey, maybe you strike gold and find an NBA rotation player out of the group. The point is, you are giving yourself 14 in-house options that didn’t exist without having a G League squad that every other NBA team does.

So, yes, we’re here to take a look at what the expansion draft gave Phoenix from an NBA perspective.

A quick asterisk on all this: The 14 draftees aren’t necessarily going to join the Suns’ G League team. They could consider pro leagues in other countries, and the draft only gave the Suns their G League rights if that league is the one they want to continue with.

But if Mat Ishbia’s pro team is selling itself based on resources and a legitimate opportunity to fill a top-heavy roster, then you’d think it’s an enticing opportunity.

3 former NBA lottery picks drafted by G League’s Valley Suns

Emmanuel Mudiay: The 28-year-old Mudiay remains the high-usage on-ball guard who can score and create thanks to his aggressive, attacking style. He can get to the line as well, but he has remained a relatively inefficient, high-turnover player at every level. If his three-point shooting in the Puerto Rican Baloncesto Superior Nacional league right now (43% on 125 attempts over 27 games) would translate, it might be a step closer to having a shot at the NBA level. Mudiay on the Run Your Race podcast seven months ago admitted he fell out of love with the professional game — enough to make him sit out about a year after the pandemic. If he wants to focus on ball with a chance to earn an NBA roster spot, Phoenix appears to be a good opportunity. So he’s the biggest name here to watch — because we all know the Suns could use lead guards.

Jahlil Okafor: Like Mudiay, Okafor is playing in the Puerto Rican league that runs into July. The center is producing while flashing a limited three-point shot (10-of-24 from deep over 14 games). At 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds, there’s a good chance he remains an offensive post threat and a defensive liability at any level, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player who has appeared for four NBA teams as well as squads in China, Spain, Mexico and the G League. The 2015 NBA Draft’s No. 3 overall pick, who is 28 years old, has dealt with his share of injuries.

Denzel Valentine: Knee and ankle injuries have plagued the 6-foot-4 guard early in his NBA career after the Chicago Bulls picked him 14th in 2016. Since last playing in the NBA in 2022, Valentine has since jumped around the G League, the NBL in Australia and most recently in a minor role with Italian team Olimpia Milano. For the Sydney Kings in a more substantial role last season, Valentine averaged 12.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists, which highlights his versatility and complementary style on the wing.

4 NBA-experienced players with a clear skill

Quinndary Weatherspoon: The 6-foot-3 shooting guard has 42 games played between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, a good foundation of playing on winning teams. The 27-year-old has played some of his best NBA games against the Suns, with two double-digit efforts against them in May 2021 and rotation role and six points scored on Christmas 2021. It’s notable that he might get up for those games because he is from Camden, Mississippi and a class behind Moss Point, Mississippi high school star Devin Booker. That physicality on defense along with some secondary scoring chops makes him a capable complementary piece.

Mychal Mulder: The three-point specialist who played at Kentucky the two years after Booker departed has spent time in winning cultures with the Warriors, as well as the Miami Heat. He has 84 games of NBA experience and is a 37% three-point shooter on high volume. Like, really high volume. Curiously, that accuracy fell off last year in the G League (29%) with the Capitol City Go-Go as his role was cut in half compared to his previous seasons. The year before that for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Mulder averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 10.3 of his 12.6 total attempts behind the arc (40% accuracy).

Lindell Wigginton: A shifty, low-to-the-ground point guard, Wigginton, 26, played 29 games for the Milwaukee Bucks from 2021-23, some of that time under new Suns head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Wisconsin Herd’s all-time leading scorer, he averaged 19.8 points, 5.0 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 42% from three last season in the G League. The three-point shooting there was a massive improvement. Wigginton’s free-throw percentage also made a major bump at 77% compared to 69% and 66%, respectively, the prior two seasons.

Gary Clark: A 6-foot-6, 225-pound wing, Clark has 170 games of NBA experience with Houston, Orlando, Denver, Philadelphia and New Orleans from 2018-22. A smart, switchy energy wing, Clark fits the mold of a P.J. Washington type, something of value in the league at present. The 27-year-old averaged 17 points, 2.3 assists and 7.6 rebounds for the NBL’s Illawarra Hawks last year. He flashed volume but not accuracy (31%) from three.

2 developmental prospects

Trevion Williams: Just 23 years old, Williams has played in the G League as a role player but flashed this past year with Ratiopharm Ulm in Germany’s Bundesliga. At 6-foot-10 and 255 pounds, Williams earned All-EuroCup First Team by averaging 14.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. A 53% shooter, Williams remains committed to making opponents at least view him as a spot-up three-point threat with 2.8 attempts per game at just 28% accuracy. He’s also got a high turnover rate, but the production comes in a unique package of a playmaking center.

Theo Maledon: It says a lot the Suns drafted the player who was on a two-way contract last season. Maledon indeed has 177 games of NBA experience even if only four or those were with Phoenix last season. Like Mudiay, turnovers and poor shooting splits will limit him. Maledon being 23 years old at least makes you wonder if he has more runway to change. Maledon only has eight games of G League experience dating back to the 2021 season. He’s spent much of his time as a pro with the Thunder’, Hornets’ and Suns’ NBA rosters, and it’s curious how much regular play might reflect on how he develops.

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9 players to know: How the Valley Suns’ G League team can help Phoenix